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New HHS division slammed as tool for anti-LGBT discrimination

Medical practitioners allowed to deny abortion-related services and treatment to LGBT people on religious grounds

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Roger Severino, gay news, Washington Blade

Roger Severino hailed the creation of a conscience division at HHS. (Image courtesy C-Span)

Consistent with media reports indicating the move was coming, the Department of Health & Human Services on Thursday formally established a conscience division that critics say will allow medical practitioners to deny abortion-related services and treatment to LGBT people on religious grounds.

Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation scholar and now director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, said in a statement the new agency — called the Conscience & Religious Freedom Division — will help enforcement of laws designed to protect religious freedom.

“Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced,” Severino said. “No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice.”

As a Heritage Foundation scholar, Severino expressed anti-transgender views, such as  opposition to allowing transgender people in the U.S. military and the Obama administration’s litigation against North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom law House Bill 2.

Acting Secretary of Health & Human Services Eric Hargan echoed Severino’s praise for the new division in a statement.

“President Trump promised the American people that his administration would vigorously uphold the rights of conscience and religious freedom,” Hargan said. “That promise is being kept today. The Founding Fathers knew that a nation that respects conscience rights is more diverse and more free, and OCR’s new division will help make that vision a reality.”

The new division was unveiled Thursday at HHS in an event with both Hargan and Severino as well as members of Congress who have anti-LGBT records, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

But LGBT groups decried the establishment of the Conscience & Religious Freedom Division on the basis that it would enable religious objectors to refuse to treat transgender people or provide abortion-related services.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement the new division is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“We are not fooled: The new office announced this morning is meant to make it easier for people to discriminate, not to protect people of faith,” Carey said. “Health professionals have a duty to care for all their patients regardless of one’s gender identity, sexual orientation, faith, creed, race, political views, gender or disability, and no one should be denied care for being who they are.”

Creation of the division was first reported on Wednesday by Politico in an article indicating HHS would establish the agency as part of a proposed new rule enabling religious exemptions for medical providers. Although the new agency was created, no new rule has been published in the Federal Register.

HHS hasn’t responded to repeated inquiries from the Washington Blade on the nature of the new division or whether a new rule would be forthcoming.

Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, was among the LGBT groups that criticized the new division as means to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

“It’s amazing how the same people who regularly deride the LGBT community for seeking special rights are now reveling in the creation of special rights for themselves,” Angelo said. “Log Cabin Republicans is proud to support both religious liberty and LGBT equality, but the Conscience & Religious Freedom Division at HHS seems primed to tip the scales in favor of overly broad, vague, and frivolous complaints that disproportionately impact the LGBT community in matters — quite literally — that could mean life and death.”

Jason Lemieux, director of government affairs for the Center for Inquiry, said in a statement the new division is at odds with ensuring access to health care.

“The Department of Health & Human Services should have as its sole priority the health and well-being of every American, pursuing policies based in facts and evidence, regardless of any person’s religious beliefs or lack thereof,” Lemieux said. “This grossly misnamed division represents the opposite. It is an abdication of the department’s vital responsibility to the health of all Americans, placing the dogmatic beliefs of a few above the health and lives of the people they serve.”

Cheering the creation of the division as means to protect religious freedom, on the other hand, was Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council.

“Health care providers and others protected under federal conscience laws should be greatly encouraged that HHS will address any government actions taken against those who have objections to participating in an abortion or purchasing health insurance that includes abortion,” Perkins said. “Americans should not be forced to choose between their faith and their desire to help patients.”

In contrast to the Trump administration, the Obama administration issued a rule interpreting the provision barring sex discrimination under Obamacare to bar medical providers from discriminating against transgender patients or women who have had abortions. After a legal challenge, however, HHS was enjoined from enforcing that rule as a result of a court order issued by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas.

The Center for American Progress published a report on the same day the HHS division was created indicating a significant minority of LGBT people have faced denial of services in the medical sector. The report, titled “Discrimination Prevents LGBTQ People from Accessing Health Care,” is based on a 2017 survey conducted by the organization.

Among the findings was 29 percent of transgender people surveyed said a doctor or health care provider refused to see them because of their gender identity. Another 12 percent said a health care provider refused to provide them transition-related care.

For individuals who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, the survey found eight percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to see them because of their sexual orientation. Another six percent said a doctor or other health care provider refused to give them health care related to being lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer.

Shabab Mirza, an LGBT research assistant at the Center of American Progress and co-author of the report, said in a statement the conscience division “is the latest in the harms the Trump administration has enacted on this community.”

“These data show the breadth of the discrimination that LGBTQ people, and especially transgender people, experience in health care settings,” Mirza said. “From avoiding doctor’s offices out of fear of discrimination, to hearing demeaning language, to being denied care outright, it is no wonder that LGBTQ people report poorer health than their peers.”

Conscience & Religious Freedom Division is created days before the anti-abortion rights March for Life rally in D.C., which President Trump is set to address via a video message. Trump may address the creation of the new division in remarks to the crowd.

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AIDS and HIV

FDA eases blood donation restrictions for gay & bisexual men

The FDA’s proposal would lift the mandatory three-month deferral period for some men who have sex with men

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FDA headquarters (Photo Credit: U.S. Government/GSA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced a proposed change to its blood donation guidelines on Friday that would ease restrictions for gay and bisexual men.

The FDA notes the proposal, news of which was first reported in November, would bring U.S. policies in alignment with those in place in countries like the U.K. and Canada. The agency is expected to formally adopt the new guidelines after a public comment period.

The move follows criticism from LGBTQ groups and organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) who have long argued the current policy is homophobic and based on an outdated understanding of the risks associated with blood donation by men who have sex with men.

As the AMA wrote of the current policy: “a man who has protected sex with another man in the three months prior to a blood donation cannot be a donor, but a man or woman who has unprotected sex with multiple partners of the opposite sex over the same time period remains eligible.”

The FDA’s proposal would lift the mandatory three-month deferral period for some men who have sex with men and instead use a “gender-inclusive, individual risk-based questions relevant to HIV risk.”

Potential donors would be asked for information about their sexual history over the past three months. Respondents who indicate they have had sex with one or more new sexual partners would then be asked whether they have had anal sex during this period. Those who answer “yes” would be deferred from blood donation.

Axios noted that as of this morning, about 20 percent of the country’s community blood centers have a one-day supply or less, while the FDA’s broadened eligibility criteria would increase the annual blood supply by two to four percent, citing data from America’s Blood Centers’ daily tracker and the Williams Institute.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) issued a statement celebrating the FDA’s proposal. “As I have long advocated for, this blood donation policy takes a step forward and is better rooted in the most up-to-date science with a focus on individual risk factors, not outdated stigmas that effectively ban gay and bisexual men,” she said.

Baldwin has repeatedly urged the agency to revisit its blood donation policy over the years, including by corralling support from other members of Congress to cosign letters to the FDA in 2014 and 2016, raising the issue again in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated shortages in the blood supply.

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also acknowledged the move in a statement by its chair, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.): “I am glad the FDA is finally moving toward an individual risk-based assessment model, but recognize, based on existing reporting, that many LGBTQI+ people may still be barred from donating,” he said. “I look forward to taking a closer look at the proposed guidelines once they are published and working with the FDA to ensure that any unnecessary barriers are removed.”

Several LGBTQ groups also issued statements celebrating the FDA’s new guidance.

“These changes are 40-plus years in the making, and are a tremendous leap forward toward elevating science over stigma,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis. “GLAAD and leading medical experts have long been advocating for guidelines that see and treat LGBTQ people the same as any other person, including as potential donors who want to help others.”

“This new policy removes a decades-long barrier for many in our community – and there is more to do to ensure gay, bisexual and transgender people are no longer unfairly stigmatized when they try to donate blood,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson said. “The assessment criteria have flaws, focusing excessively, for instance, on the number of partners a potential donor has instead of just on new partners,” she added.

Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+ Hepatitis Policy Institute, said: “While this long-overdue change is being made based on the science and the facts, which have been clear for years, it is the result of the leadership of the Biden administration that continues to tear down discriminatory government policies.”

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AIDS and HIV

Experimental HIV vaccine failure, deemed safe but ineffective

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing innovation in HIV & hope the data from Mosaico will provide insights for future efforts”

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HIV (Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health)

BETHESDA, Md. – A clinical trial of an investigational HIV vaccine regimen, being conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies and global partners of parent company Johnson & Johnson dubbed “Mosaico,” was discontinued.

In an announcement made Wednesday, NIAID said the HIV vaccine regimen tested among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people was safe but did not provide protection against HIV acquisition, an independent data and safety monitoring board had determined.

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson noted in light of the board’s determination, the Mosaico clinical trial will be discontinued. Participant notifications and further analyses of the data are underway. Throughout the trial, study investigators have ensured that any individuals who contracted HIV received prompt HIV treatment and care.

Both Johnson & Johnson and NIAID stressed that no safety issues with the vaccine regimen were identified.

“We are disappointed with this outcome and stand in solidarity with the people and communities vulnerable to and affected by HIV,” said Penny Heaton, M.D., Global Therapeutic Area Head, Vaccines, Janssen Research & Development, LLC. “Though there have been significant advances in prevention since the beginning of the global epidemic, 1.5 million people acquired HIV in 2021 alone, underscoring the high unmet need for new options and why we have long worked to tackle this global health challenge. We remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing innovation in HIV, and we hope the data from Mosaico will provide insights for future efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine. We are grateful to our Mosaico partners and the study investigators, staff and participants.”

Janssen Vaccines & Prevention sponsored the Mosaico study with funding support from NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health. The trial was conducted by the NIAID-funded HIV Vaccine Clinical Trials Network, based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command provided additional study support.

The Phase 3 Mosaico Study:

Mosaico, a Phase 3 study of Janssen’s investigational HIV vaccine regimen, began in 2019, and completed vaccinations in October 2022. The study included approximately 3,900 cisgender men and transgender people who have sex with cisgender men and/or transgender people, who represent groups and populations vulnerable to HIV, at over 50 trial sites in Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, Spain and the United States.

The study evaluated an investigational vaccine regimen containing a mosaic-based adenovirus serotype 26 vector (Ad26.Mos4.HIV) administered during four vaccination visits over one year. A mix of soluble proteins (Clade C/Mosaic gp140, adjuvanted with aluminum phosphate) was also administered at visits three and four.

The Mosaico DSMB analysis, based on the data available to date, indicated that the regimen does not protect against HIV and the study is not expected to meet its primary endpoint. No safety issues with the vaccine regimen were identified. In light of this, the study will be discontinued, and further analyses are underway.

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Fentanyl Crisis

Fentanyl took life of 18-year-old actor Tyler Sanders says coroner

The actor had a history of drug use and cops allegedly found “a plastic straw and white powder in the room where he died”

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Sanders/Instagram

LOS ANGELES – The June 16, 2022 death of Tyler Sanders, 18, was an accidental overdose from fentanyl says a report released by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner. The actor, star of 9-1-1: Lone Star” and “The Rookie” and formerly “Fear The Walking Dead”  had a history of drug abuse the report stated according to celebrity news webzine TMZ which obtained and published the report.

Sources had told TMZ at the time of the actor’s death he had a history of drug use and LAPD investigators had found “a plastic straw and white powder in the room where he died.”

In the full coroner’s report obtained by the entertainment site, Sanders texted a friend the night before he died where he mentioned he was using fentanyl. The report went on to mention that the actor didn’t answer his phone when that friend attempted to call him after sending the text.

The Los Angeles Police Department found Sanders unresponsive in bed in the home where he lived alone. The report also detailed more apparent illicit drugs were found in the bathroom.

The report mentioned Sanders’ history of drug abuse, which included heroin, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, and Xanax. He had no history of medical problems.

The New York Post noted that Sanders, who entered showbiz at age 10, is perhaps known for starring in “9-1-1: Lone Star” opposite Rob Lowe. He also appeared “The Rookie,” “Fear the Walking Dead” and the Amazon Prime series “Just Add Magic: Mystery City.”

Also a student of stand-up comedy and improv, the rising star earned a 2021 Daytime Emmy nomination for his role as Leo in the “Just Add Magic” spin-off, and had a pair of independent films currently in postproduction, per to his IMDb.com profile.

Sanders/Instagram

Sanders was also active on social media, boasting an Instagram page with over 12,000 followers, where he frequently shared photos of himself with co-stars, friends and other adventures.

ET Canada reported after Sanders’ cause of death was revealed, his family released emotional statements, insisting that they hope the actor’s death can help others who might be struggling with their mental health.

Sanders’ father David shared, “Tyler was an ambitious, hard-working actor who was dealing with deep and persistent depression. Although actively seeking treatment, Tyler struggled to find relief and chose to experiment with drugs.

“Tyler fell into drug use, not as a way to have fun socially, but rather as an attempt to overcome his profound mental health struggle. While we continue to mourn his death, we are determined to share Tyler’s story in hopes of furthering the conversation around this pervasive issue.”

His mother, Ginger, added: “Losing Tyler due to fentanyl poisoning has been incredibly difficult. I want others to understand that we are a family much like all other families who never thought this could happen to us.

“Tyler had a strong support system and still could not overcome his persistent depression. Perhaps because of his depression, Tyler sought out deep connections and to bring those around him joy.

“While Tyler quietly fought his inner battles, he was outwardly determined to make sure no one felt as he did. Tyler loved the Lord, loved people and did his best every day. It is our sincere prayer that our story might save others.”

Officials in Los Angeles County law enforcement and public health agencies in November announced that the number of fentanyl-related deaths had leaped upwards by 1,280%, from 109 in 2016 to 1,504 in 2021.

“Tragically, in L.A. County, about four people die each day from a fentanyl overdose and this devastating loss touches families all across the county,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the LA County Public Health Director told reporters during a recent press conference.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Laboratory has found that, of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills analyzed in 2022, six out of ten now contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from DEA’s previous announcement in 2021 that four out of ten fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills were found to contain a potentially lethal dose.

“More than half of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills being trafficked in communities across the country now contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This marks a dramatic increase – from four out of ten to six out of ten – in the number of pills that can kill,” said Administrator Anne Milgram. “These pills are being mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Mexico. Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you. Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill.”

Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil or Abe Lincoln’s nose on a penny, is considered a potentially deadly dose. (Photo Credit: USDEA)

“The proliferation into prescription drug lookalikes show that four out of 10 pills that are recovered today by the Los Angeles Police Department, and across this country, contain a deadly and fatal amount of fentanyl,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore said.

The DEA notes that those pills are largely made by two Mexican drug cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco (CJNG) Cartel, to look identical to real prescription medications, including OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Xanax®, and they are often deadly. The two cartels using chemicals largely sourced from China, are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.

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Fentanyl Crisis

Fentanyl to potentially kill entire population of North America seized

DEA & other agencies confiscated more than 379 million deadly doses of fentanyl in 2022. It remains the deadliest drug threat facing the U.S.

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Rainbow-colored pills allegedly containing fentanyl were seized during a DEA-FBI operation in November 2022 (Photo Credit: USDEA)

WASHINGTON – In a press conference this week, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Anne Milgram told reporters that the DEA and other federal agencies confiscated more than 379 million deadly doses of fentanyl this year, which was enough to potentially kill every American.

“These seizures – enough deadly doses of fentanyl to kill every American – reflect  DEA’s unwavering commitment to protect Americans and save lives, by tenaciously pursuing those responsible for the trafficking of fentanyl across the United States,” she said.

The DEA head also noted that seizures included 50.6 million fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills and more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder.

Federal officials warn that fentanyl “is a highly addictive man-made opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Laboratory has found that, of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills analyzed in 2022, six out of ten now contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. This is an increase from DEA’s previous announcement in 2021 that four out of ten fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills were found to contain a potentially lethal dose.

“More than half of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills being trafficked in communities across the country now contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl. This marks a dramatic increase – from four out of ten to six out of ten – in the number of pills that can kill,” said Administrator Milgram. “These pills are being mass-produced by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel in Mexico. Never take a pill that wasn’t prescribed directly to you. Never take a pill from a friend. Never take a pill bought on social media. Just one pill is dangerous and one pill can kill.”

The DEA notes that those pills are largely made by the two Mexican drug cartels look identical to real prescription medications, including OxyContin®, Percocet®, and Xanax®, and they are often deadly. The two cartels using chemicals largely sourced from China, are primarily responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in communities across the United States.

In Los Angeles alone, DEA officials seized more than 7 million fentanyl pills and more than 1,000 pounds of fentanyl powder this year.

DEA lab officials estimate that amount represents more than 38 million potentially deadly doses of the narcotic, which would be enough to kill the entire population of the largest counties in Southern California.

DEA Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Bill Bodner called the region a “major transshipment hub” for fentanyl and other drugs, and for that reason, his agency is committed to saving lives.

“As people prepare to celebrate the holidays and gather with friends and family let us be mindful of the fentanyl threat that is destroying families across the nation and leaving empty seats at the dinner table this year,” Bodner said. “These seizures represent our tenacious efforts to make our communities safer and our ongoing commitment to save lives.”

Governor Gavin Newsom released the following statement on the end-of-year numbers in California’s comprehensive and historic fight toward ending the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid crisis has touched every part of California, and our nation, this year. As we mourn the many lives lost, California is working harder than ever to fight this crisis and protect people from these dangerous drugs to ensure our communities are kept safe in the first place,” said Governor Newsom. “California is cracking down on the fentanyl crisis – increasing seizures, making resources more available to Californians, and ensuring communities have what they need to combat the immeasurable harm opioids have caused our society, our communities, and our loved ones.”

KEY NUMBERS:

  • MORE THAN $1 BILLION INVESTED since the beginning of the Newsom Administration to address the opioid crisis, with CalHHS investing $450 Million in the current fiscal year.
  • 28,765 POUNDS SEIZED by law enforcement with support from the California National Guard in support of law enforcement during 2022, an estimated street value of more than $230 Million and saving potentially hundreds of millions of lives according to the DEA.
  • 594% INCREASE IN FENTANYL SEIZED by law enforcement with help from the California National Guard compared to 2021.
  • 166 NEW GUARD MEMBERS hired, trained, and embedded by California’s National Guard to support the Governor’s initiative to reduce deadly fentanyl in communities.

RECENT ACTION: The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) is making millions of dollars in grants available to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. Today, DHCS announced it will bolster efforts to raise awareness of the life-saving drug Naloxone by working with colleges and universities across California.

On Tuesday, DHCS announced that millions of dollars in grants are available to help improve patient care in the areas of substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, and addictions. Last week, DHCS announced that millions of dollars in new grants were now available to tackle youth opioid use, including schools and other nonprofit organizations.

In July, the state of California received more than $100 million as part of the national opioid settlement with multiple major pharmaceutical companies. And as part of last year’s budget, Newsom provided additional funding to increase the California National Guard’s capacity to combat the fentanyl crisis and support federal, state and local law enforcement counter-narcotic investigations and operations.

Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing the U.S. as it is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.  Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially deadly dose.

Just two milligrams of fentanyl, the small amount that fits on the tip of a pencil or Abe Lincoln’s nose on a penny, is considered a potentially deadly dose.
(Photo Credit: USDEA)

According to the CDC, 107,622 Americans died of drug poisoning in 2021, with 66 percent of those deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl. 

For more information on the dangers of fentanyl, please visit Fentanyl Awareness (dea.gov).

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Commentary

Condoms are Plan A: Back to the future of condoms 

A combination of pharma greed, government squeamishness & the libertine position of advocates left us unprotected from a tidal wave of STIs

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Free condoms on the Sao Paulo subway system in Brazil (Washington Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Michael Weinstein | LOS ANGELES – The world has completed a ten-year experiment with HIV prevention and the results are clear. PrEP and HIV treatment to prevent transmission have been found wanting. 1.5 million people globally became infected with HIV last year [1]. STIs are at an all-time high, a tragic turn from where we were just twenty years ago when syphilis was close to being eradicated. The US alone had 2.5 million combined cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis in 2021 [2]. Not to mention millions of teen pregnancies and unwanted babies.

For anyone looking at our circumstance objectively, it is clear that the pure biomedical interventions will never take the place of condoms as the first line of defense against HIV, STIs, and unplanned pregnancy. Yet condom promotion is virtually non-existent, and the condom culture is destroyed.

A combination of pharma greed, government squeamishness, and the libertine position of many advocates has left us unprotected against the tidal wave of STIs that is sweeping the world. It is easy enough to understand why condoms are not popular. Many people feel they’re uncomfortable, interrupt spontaneity, aren’t there when you need them, and on and on.

Governments don’t want to promote condoms because it would force them to talk about the “icky” subject of sex. Religious groups oppose them because they promote sexual pleasure over reproduction. Libertarians see them as a restriction on their freedom.

Beyond the health implications, it is time to look at condoms as an alternative to abortion. With the right to choose having been trashed by the Supreme Court, alternatives to medical abortions are getting a second look. The public health system in the US must choose an avenue to focus on where primary prevention will take place.

Plan B medication interrupts conception within 72 hours of a sexual encounter. Plan C can end a pregnancy.

Why not have a Plan A—Condoms. Hershel Walker, who recently lost his race for the Senate in Georgia, repeatedly asked a woman to have an abortion. Did he consider a condom? Arnold Schwarzenegger had an affair with the housekeeper that busted up his marriage. Did he consider a condom?

At AHF Wellness Centers, we have many frequent flyers who routinely test positive for STIs. Antibiotics do the job (for now), clearing up infections quickly so the next infection can take its place. Is using a condom such a high price to pay for preventing multiple infections? People who test positive for STIs are more likely to get HIV in the future [3].

If we continue down this route, we know where it goes. Rampant increases in STIs are costly, can result in infertility, cause still births due to syphilis (congenital syphilis rates tragically increased 184.5% over the past five years), create drug resistant gonorrhea, and incite relationship break-ups [2]. Despite these serious outcomes, we see STIs as a temporary inconvenience and do not take them seriously.

There has never been any question that biomedical interventions can help an individual and should be freely available without any stigma. However, ten years in there still isn’t any proof that biomedical interventions alone will reduce HIV, but we know they will stoke STIs. Nevertheless, we are heavily exporting this failed experiment to the world. And who benefits most—Pharma giants Gilead and GSK.

Government policy must adjust to the realities of primary prevention. We need to go back to basics and promote condoms as the primary means to prevent HIV/STIs if we are to have any chance of bringing rates down. Focusing in on condoms gives the power of prevention and control back to the individual, it won’t get tied up in medical appointments and pharma profits.

Some want us to double down and give preventative antibiotics to stave STIs. This may lead to increases in unprotected sex and inevitably to antibiotic resistance, which is a growing existential public health threat [4].

Prevention is a tough road to hoe. You will never be completely successful in promoting healthier behavior. But, having bent the stick so dangerously in one direction it is time to bend it back.

Sources

1. HIV.gov. The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic. Available online: https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/data-and-trends/global-statistics

2. CDC Preliminary 2021 STD Surveillance Data. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/std/statistics/2021/default.htm 

3. CDC STDs and HIV – CDC Basic Fact Sheet. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hiv/stdfact-std-hiv.htm 

4. CDC. Antimicrobial-Resistant Gonorrhea Basic Information. Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/arg/basic.htm 

************************************

Michael Weinstein is the president of Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization. 

The Foundation now operates in over 730 treatment clinics in more than 45 countries globally: over 68 outpatient AHF Healthcare Centers in over 16 states as well as in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. AHF also operates more than 60 pharmacies in over 17 states and also operates a clinical research unit.

Under its Positive Healthcare brand, AHF operates managed care programs for people living with HIV and/or AIDS in California, Florida, and Georgia.

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LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health

Caroline Cruz responds to media coverage

The 14-year-old Cruz was suffering from self-inflicted stab wounds and was rushed to hospital Tuesday night

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Caroline Cruz via _caro_iguess_ caroline?!/TikTok

HOUSTON – In a scripted TikTok post, Caroline Cruz, the 14-year-old daughter of Texas Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz responded to the intense media coverage and interest in her medical emergency Tuesday evening at the family’s home in the toney River Oaks neighborhood of Houston.

“I wanted to address this on my own because the media is causing my mental health to be exploited for their gain. I also don’t enjoy the assumptions on why I did what I did. No, it had nothing to do with my sexuality or my father. I’m not suicidal but I am experiencing some mental issues. I’m working through it and getting the help I need. Thank you so much for all the support and love, it means a lot to me. But the most traumatizing part of this experience is how public it’s been,” Cruz told the viewers of her post.

@_caro_iguess_

before yall ask yes i am reading from a script, i had a lit ti say and i wanted to day it right so im sorry if it sounds superficial THANK YOU @finn ♰ @Kat for being the best friends ever

♬ son original – caroline?!
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Fentanyl Crisis

Health orgs distribute Fentanyl test strips & Narcan in WeHo

Activists and members of health organizations hand out life-saving Fentanyl Test Strips and Naloxone nasal sprays

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Activists and members of health organizations hand out life-saving Fentanyl Test Strips and Naloxone nasal sprays. (Photo Credit: WeHo Times)

By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The Institute for Public Strategies’ West Hollywood Project joined activists and members of health organizations Being Alive Los Angeles, LGBT Center’s Trans Wellness Center, AHF, The Wall Las Memories  APLA Health, Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (LA CADA), and Los Angeles Department of Public Health to distribute overdose prevention information and resources along with life-saving Fentanyl Test Strips and Naloxone nasal sprays.

The group gathered for an evening of engaging with the public to discuss the dangers of drug use on National Meth Awareness Day, on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, at West Hollywood Park facing Robertson Boulevard (Next to The Abbey Food & Bar).

The West Hollywood Project recognized National Meth Awareness by hosting two events, one in Silverlake (at Akbar, located at 4356 Sunset Blvd), and the other at West Hollywood Park at 647 N. San Vicente Boulevard (picnic area near Robertson Boulevard), beginning at 7:30 p.m. (there is an additional event at Stache WeHo, 8941 Santa Monica Blvd.)

Volunteers set up two tables to and offered resources on drug addiction and provided information on harm reduction, along with tools individuals could use for themselves or offer to a friend.

“We’re engaging the community and giving away free fentanyl test strips and Narcan for education and to raise awareness, “said Daniel Ruiz of West Hollywood’s Institute of Public Strategies “We are also offering condoms and lube and we also have other organizations here that are part of the coalition.”

Daniel Ruiz

“I’m out here with APLA Health, and not only are we providing the Narcan and the test strips, but we’re also out here as a resource,” said Luckie Alexander, “I’m also working with the Trans Wellness Center, so if anyone comes out here and needs other services, especially our trans folks, I’m providing those services and giving them contact information. We just ask them if they want the Narcan or the test strips and a lot of folks are really responding. We know those folks are going to be safe and live another day. This is about harm reduction, having access to these things and knowing what to do with it. Folks really appreciated.”

Luckie Alexander

Alexander added that there this was a judgment-free space and that they weren’t telling anyone to stop doing drugs, but to help them take better care of themselves.

The West Hollywood Project is an ongoing, centralized effort to help promote Alcohol and Drug (AOD) Free events, activities and civic opportunities in the West Hollywood area. They promote specific events such as #SIZZLE! at LA Pride and #BOOM!, the annual New Year’s Eve event in West Hollywood. The West Hollywood Project is a Project of the Institute for Public Strategies and funded by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Substance Abuse Prevention and Control.

A national survey found one out of six young adults has used illicit drugs in the last month. Brain scientists now know why just one use of crystal meth (methamphetamine) can make a person feel hooked.

The National Meth Awareness day is an effort to send a prevention message to potential meth users. It also gets the message out about available programs to current users. In some parts of the country, meth use is increasing while in others it continues to rise.

Part of the reason meth is so addictive is it increases the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine occurs naturally in our brains. It affects our body’s reward centers as well as our movement, motivation, and reinforcement. It’s the impact on this area of the brain that makes methamphetamine so addictive.

Beyond the short-term effects of alertness, increased physical activity, reduced or no appetite, rapid heart rate and increased blood pressure, continued use of methamphetamine has long-term health effects.

  • risk of diseases transmitted through needles
  • addiction
  • extreme weight loss
  • dental problems including tooth loss and gum disease
  • sleeping disorders
  • memory loss
  • anxiety
  • skin issues
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia

However, there is help. Visit Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) to learn about the referral program. It’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The page is full of resources for adults, teens, and family members. There, you can find support for yourself and others who may be facing addiction. There is a way out and a life after addiction. Visit the helpline at: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.

In a proclamation signed by President George W. Bush in 2006, November 30th was set forth as National Meth Awareness Day. The observance serves two purposes. First, it aims to reach potential users with prevention methods. Second, the day increases awareness of programs and services available to current users.

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Fentanyl Crisis

Federal health officials hold roundtable on opioid overdose crisis

“Deaths caused by opioids like illicit fentanyl are preventable with naloxone,” said White House advisor Dr. Rahul Gupta

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Rahul Gupta, Tammy Baldwin, Robert Calif and Miriam Delphin Rittmon at Whitman-Walker Health (Washington Blade by Lou Chibbaro Jr)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and four other high level federal health officials held a roundtable community meeting followed by a press conference at D.C.’s Whitman-Walker Health headquarters on Friday to discuss what they said were “groundbreaking” efforts to address and end the nation’s epidemic of deaths from the overdose of opioid drugs.

A statement released by HHS says Becerra and the other officials, including Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, reached out to Whitman-Walker, which, among other things, operates one of the D.C. metro area’s preeminent substance abuse treatment programs, to commemorate the one-year anniversary HHS’s Overdoes Prevention Strategy program.

“Now, one year after the release of this strategy, our nation is in a much stronger position to treat addiction and save lives,” Becerra said. “We didn’t get here by accident. Thanks to decades of work by advocates, coupled with an unparalleled people-first strategy and unprecedented investment by the Biden-Harris administration, we have made a great deal of progress,” he said.

The officials, including Gupta, pointed out that the Overdose Prevention Strategy over the past year and an updated effort launched this month have focused on greatly expanding availability of the drug overdose antidote medication naloxone.

“Deaths caused by opioids like illicit fentanyl are preventable with naloxone, and today’s announcement means more life-saving naloxone will be in communities across the country,” Gupta said. “The latest data continue to show a hopeful trend of a decreases in overdose deaths, so we must remain focused on fully implementing President Biden’s National Drug Control Strategy that will save tens of thousands of lives by expanding care for substance use disorder, making naloxone more accessible, and dismantling drug trafficking operations,” he said. 

In addition to Gupta from the White House, Becerra was joined at the community meeting and press conference by Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is an arm of HHS; Dr. Debra Houry, acting principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Robert Califf, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

Also participating in the roundtable session and press conference was U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the nation’s first out lesbian member of the Senate. 

Becerra said he invited Baldwin to participant in the day’s events, among other things, because of her record of advocacy and support for funding of federal substance abuse and overdose prevention programs. 

“One area I’ve championed in Congress is increasing access to overdose reversal medication like naloxone,” Baldwin said. “We know that when you increase access to this safe and effective treatment that you save lives,” she said. “And I’m thrilled to see the Biden administration and especially the Food and Drug Administration taking steps to increase access to naloxone.”

Califf told the gathering one of the FDA’s recently launched efforts is to work with drug manufacturers to arrange for naloxone to become an over-the-counter drug that would further expand its availability. 

The roundtable discussion session, which included close to 50 participants, including Becerra and the other federal officials, was closed to the press, according to an HHS spokesperson, because among those participating were Whitman-Walker clients and others who receive services and support for what the officials called substance use disorder.

During the press conference that followed, Becerra spoke of how some of those participating in the roundtable discussion were part of Whitman-Walker’s success stories in helping people overcome substance use problems 

“We’re here because a year ago we decided to go in a different direction at the federal level,” he said at the press conference. “We decided that we’re not moving fast enough, we’re not moving close enough to where we need to be to try to help communities and those folks at Whitman-Walker who are trying to not just get folks into treatment but to save lives,” Becerra said. 

“And that was the great thing about the round table that we just had,” he said. “We heard about how people thrive,” he said, adding, “And one of the clients, Deborah, spoke about how she’s on the verge of getting her degree from college … That’s what we want to see … I want to thank the folks at Whitman-Walker for letting us come today to see how people can thrive and be part of that success.”

Whitman-Walker Health CEO Naseema Shafi told the Washington Blade after the press conference that Whitman-Walker has a long history of partnering with federal government agencies in addressing health issues, including Whitman-Walker’s role as a healthcare facility welcoming the LGBTQ community. 

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AIDS and HIV

Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight dazzle World AIDS Day concert 

“As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS”

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Patti LaBelle performs onstage during World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

WASHINGTON – The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted its 2022 World AIDS Day Concert on Wednesday, Nov. 30, in the concert hall of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the nation’s capital.

Renowned multi-Grammy Award-winning vocalists Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight delivered show-stopping performances to the packed crowd, which included supporters, dignitaries such as: Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and New Orleans Mayor, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and more, in a night of hope and celebration.

The legendary Gladys Knight performs at the Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington.
(Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care provider, currently operating in 45 countries. The concert is held every year to commemorate World AIDS Day, observed internationally each year on Dec. 1. This year also marked the global organization’s 35th anniversary. 

At the event, longtime humanitarian and AIDS advocate, Princess Diana was honored, posthumously, with AHF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Under its “Keep the Promise!” banner, AHF also acknowledged progress made in the global fight against HIV and AIDS and continues to raise awareness about “The Other Pandemic” as a reminder of the significant work still to be done on HIV/AIDS, as well as remembering the lives that have been lost over the years.  

Legendary entertainers Patti LaBelle (L) Gladys Knight (C) and AHF President Michael Weinstein, together at The Kennedy Center during a free concert hosted by AHF to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2022, in Washington.
(Joy Asico/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, said, “As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS around the globe, World AIDS Day annually provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS today, as well as reminding leaders and the community of the work that still remains to address this epidemic. From providing compassionate AIDS hospice care in those darkest early days to growing to become the largest global AIDS organization today, now providing lifesaving care and treatment to more than 1.7 million people around the globe, we also celebrate the tireless work of all those who help make today’s AHF possible: our staff, Board, affiliate organizations and affinity groups, friends, family and elected officials and community partners across the globe, but most of all, our clients and patients—with our annual 2022 World AIDS Day event. It was a momentous night to host our World AIDS Day concert at The Kennedy Center for the first time, and welcome back the legendary Patti LaBelle, and have another great American icon, Gladys Knight join us, while also being able to honor the legacy and humanitarian work of the late Princess Diana.”

President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein and Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, Harold Phillips attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Congresswoman, Sheila Jackson Lee and Patti LaBelle attend World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
Derek J. attends World AIDS Day 2022 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
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AIDS and HIV

Cleve Jones, activist & founder of AIDS Memorial Quilt honored

National AIDS Memorial hosted observances at the 10-acre Memorial Grove and displaying Quilt in nearly 100 communities throughout the U.S.

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Former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos presents award to Cleve Jones (Photo courtesy of National AIDS Memorial Foundation)

SAN FRANCISCO  – The National AIDS Memorial marked World AIDS Day with a national observance at the 10-acre National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco, honoring AIDS activist and founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt Cleve Jones with its Lifetime of Commitment Award. 

The two days of events brought together leaders on the front lines of the epidemic for powerful conversations and events focused on “Changing the Pattern for a Future without AIDS,” referencing a major initiative of the Memorial that is bringing the Quilt to the South to address the growing crisis of rising HIV rates amount communities of color and marginalized populations.

Jones, who founded the Quilt thirty-five years ago, was recognized for his visionary leadership, activism, and powerful voice in the fight for health and social justice. He remains an inspirational force for change and action today, standing up without hesitation and using his voice for those who are often overshadowed and not heard.  

U.S. House Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cailf.) praised Jones in a special video tribute, saying, “Cleve, you are a force of nature – unshakable in the face of adversity, overflowing with a passion for serving others.”

“When the AIDS crisis tightened its grip on San Francisco – when pain and despair grew rampant – you kept hope alive,” she continued. “You were a shining light in the dark, building community out of grief and spurring action out of anguish. From the halls of power to union halls and picket lines, you have never relented in your mission: empowering the oppressed, tearing down injustice and honoring the dignity and beauty of every person.”

Presenting the award to Jones was former San Francisco mayor and mentor Art Agnos to an audience of more than 600 people from the community who gathered on the eve of World AIDS Day for a gala to support the Memorial’s programs. 

“I’m honored to receive this award, but more importantly I’m so pleased that the Quilt now has a permanent home with the National AIDS Memorial and that it is continuing its mission of activism and justice. One thing I’ve learned is that through hope one finds courage and through courage we find love. Love is at the core of what we do and that is what this Quilt represents,” Jones told the audience gathered.

The National AIDS Memorial worked with local partners from across the country to display hundreds of Quilt sections featuring more than 3,500 individual panels in nearly 100 communities on World AIDS Day. 

The largest Quilt display ever in Alabama is taking place in Montgomery and surrounding areas as part of the memorial’s Change the Pattern initiative. The program, funded through a $2.4 million grant from Gilead Sciences, is organizing quilting workshops, displays and educational programming with Southern AIDS Coalition throughout the Southern U.S.

“On this World AIDS Day, it is inspiring to know that thousands of Quilt panels are on display in communities across the country, touching hearts and minds through the stories represented in the fabric,” said Gilead Sciences Chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day.  “The Quilt’s purpose remains as strong and important today, as it was thirty-five years ago, when the vision of Cleve Jones sparked a powerful movement to advance health and social justice.”

The National AIDS Memorial’s World AIDS Day Observance panelists highlighted the importance of the work being done around the country, the interconnectivity of issues to reach zero, and the importance of education and outreach to at-risk populations during three powerful conversations available for viewing online on the memorial’s website and include: Reflections with Cleve Jones and 35 years of the Quilt; The State of the Epidemic Today with Leaders on the Frontlines; and Young Leaders Making an Impact.

 

Reading of the Names at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco
(Photo courtesy of National AIDS Memorial Foundation)

“As our community comes together this World AIDS Day, it’s hard not to look around and see who’s missing – our friends, lovers, and family we’ve lost over four decades of this horrific, cruel disease,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham. “It always brings tears, and we carry so many emotions, particularly as we think of what could have been. But for me, as a man living with HIV/AIDS, I shift to a brighter space, choosing to look around me, thinking about so many of us still here, living and thriving. Survivors, who have so much to be thankful for, but also a heavy burden to share our own stories and journey, so history never repeats itself.”

He continued, “Today, people are still dying and there should have been a cure long ago. We are angry because bigotry, hate, and stigma persist today in society.  And we carry shame, because communities of color and marginalized populations continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV and discrimination, and it shouldn’t be this way.  It’s time to change the pattern.”

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